Orchids of the British Isles - Introduction Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Orchids of the British Isles - Introduction

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The shield of the Science, Mathematics and Engineering faculty of the h2g2 University. Orchids of the British Isles - Introduction
Animal Nomenclature | Orchids of Bogs, Fens and Marshes | Dactylorhiza | Helleborines (Cephalanthera) | Helleborines (Epipactis) | Insect Mimics
Lady's Slipper Orchid | Miscellaneous Orchids | Orchis | Saprophytes | Tresses | Twayblades

Most people will have heard of or seen an orchid, but did you know that orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in the world? There are 18,000 recorded species of orchid so far, which are grouped into 750 genera. Within these family groups there can be up to 1,000 species, or just one single species. There are orchids growing in just about every country in the world, including Greenland, Iceland and even in desert regions like North Africa.

Orchids fall into three categories; epiphytes1, saprophytes2 and terrestrial3, which are general terms used to describe how a plant grows. The orchids of the British Isles are mostly terrestrial, with the exception of four which are saprophytes. There are 50 species of orchids in the British Isles, divided into several genera.

Orchid flowers can appear very complex, but they are only made up of six petals. Evolution has evolved these petals to take on strange forms, with curled lips, hoods and even taking on the appearance of an insect. Some petals have fused together to form these hoods or lips, but you can still make out six petals if you look closely.

1Which grow in trees with aerial roots.2Have no chlorophyll, and obtain nutrients from dead animal and vegetable matter.3Grow with their roots underground with leaves and flowers above ground.

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